September always feels to me like a time for cracking on and getting back down to business. Blame my many years in academia for this, but this time of year always fills me with a “new term” sense of purpose.
This is particularly the case this year, as I embrace the challenge of my new job as UK government minister for Scotland, and as a country we embrace the challenge of making a success of Brexit.
As we start to take the first piece of our essential Brexit legislation through the UK Parliament, and the clock continues to tick down on our exit from the EU, I want to make sure we get more of the detail from businesses across Scotland about what they need for success in a post-Brexit world.
As a former MEP, I was a “remainer”. But the country took the decision to leave. It is incumbent on us all to respect that decision, and concentrate now on making Brexit a success. We need to get on with it, and we need to work closely with businesses as we do.
When I took this job, I promised to listen carefully to Scottish stakeholders, and I stand by that.
In fact, I see it as the single most important part of my role – listening to every concern and responding to views in a calm and considered way, discussing the options and finding solutions. That includes engaging with even the most sceptical or critical voices – robust challenge is part of finding solutions, and I won’t run away from that.
I will be taking a broad approach, and will make sure I hear the views of all of Scotland’s diverse business sectors. Scotland has a huge range of vibrant and successful businesses – from financial services in Edinburgh, to fish processing in Peterhead, fruit farming in Angus, and many more.
They all have their own views about Brexit – some of these will be consistent across sectors, some will be very specific to particular industries. What they all have in common is a determination to continue their business success, continue employing people and continue contributing to Scotland’s economic prosperity.
So, this week I am kicking off a series of roundtables across the country, to hear the views of stakeholders right across Scotland and from different sectors. In the coming weeks I want to get into the real granular detail of the priorities of industry leaders ahead of Brexit, and hear their asks of government. This is their chance to tell the UK government face-to-face what opportunities Brexit presents for them, what needs to be considered in the negotiations, and where they think challenges lie ahead.
I’ll be speaking to farmers, fishermen, food processors, financial services experts, educators, those who provide our power and protect our environment, and more. Those who know me know that I am a details man, and these meetings, and this approach, will be about the intricacies of the issues. We have seen a lot of political rhetoric around Brexit, but it is time now for constructive debate and finding solutions. We need to concentrate on making Brexit work for businesses and industries across Scotland, and I want to work with business and the Scottish Government to make that happen.
One of the things I want to get into the grit of is UK frameworks. Up until now the EU created common UK-wide regulations. Now these powers are coming back to the UK and we need to determine where common UK approaches need to be maintained and were they aren’t needed.
We need some common approaches to maintain the UK internal market – one of our greatest assets – and common frameworks in some areas may also be important to safeguard our ability to enter into and implement trade deals, manage common UK resources and keep people safe.
There has been a lot of discussion around this, and over the coming weeks I will be using this series of roundtables to understand better the views of industry about where common approaches will be important, and where they are not needed. We need to make the most sensible, rational decisions for Scotland and the UK in our new post-Brexit world.
These engagements – and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill which will continue to be debated by MPs in Parliament on Monday – are all about putting us in a position to make the most of the opportunities that Brexit will bring.
Working closely with the Secretary of State for Scotland, and with the Scottish Government, I want to get away from fighting political battles and get on with making life better for people in Scotland. There are huge opportunities for Scotland as we leave the EU and create a new role for ourselves in the world.
It’s time to get down to business with the experts – the people who drive Scotland’s productivity and prosperity. It is vital that government – and by that I mean both of Scotland’s governments – understands clearly the views of businesses around Brexit.
So this September, let’s roll our sleeves up, and get on with making Brexit work for Scotland.
l Lord Ian Duncan is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Scotland Office